Saturday, February 27, 2010

5D classic

Have these two photos from yesterday morning. Tried out a used 5D at Caribou Coffee, and when I got home to look at my test photos, I thought these two were actually kind of neat-looking.

This one's at ISO 400 with my 85mm @ f/1.8, 1/2000 sec:

I'm wondering which one looks better. This one was at ISO 1600 with the 85mm at f/1.8 and 1/8000 sec. (I was kind of testing ISOs.)

I think the man stands out better in the second one, but I like the visible bank of windows on the first one --- I think it turned out better. Love the black and white conversion for these.

Some may say the "dark masses" on either side of the man are regrettable, but I like them. I think they, along with the B&W conversion, show a sense of isolation. Maybe I'm just trying to talk a crappy photo into being better, but it really does appeal to me.

As a side note, I tried out my sister-in-law's flash, and after reading my manual again, I don't think it works on my cam. Kind of a bummer. I also think I'll let my husband sell her 100-300mm lens. I might hold on to the 35-80mm for now.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

4 a.m. Project

I saw a link to the 4am Project on Twitter, and I think I might participate this year.

The idea is to take a photo at 4 a.m. on April 4th --- a "share what your 4 a.m. looks like" kind of thing.

It looks kind of fun, and I already have an idea about what my photo could be of. Though, funnily enough, April 4th is Easter this year, so we might be out of town since we'll have a day off. I might have to come up with a couple of alternative plans...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Hand-me-down photo equipment

My sister-in-law is getting rid of some of her older photo equipment (she shot mainly film), and she told me to take anything I might want. It's a couple of film cameras, a couple of lenses (only two fit EOS cams), a flash (Speedlite 200E), and a crap-ton of filters. I'm contemplating keeping one of the lenses, but right now I'm trying to learn about filters. (I know nothing about them!) So I listed them out here and am trying to figure out the main uses for each of them.

Some of them are color filters:

1. Tiffen 55mm 11 green 1 (not sure what this one does)
2. Promaster 52mm red (R2) (used to increase contrast in B&W photography and darken blue skies)
3. Promaster 52mm YA2 (orange) (used to increase contrast in B&H photography)
4. Quantaray 52mm Y2 (not sure what this one does -- it's yellow)

Others look like they might be more helpful:

5. Quantaray 52mm UV
6. Quantaray 55mm UV
7. Quantaray 55mm C-P.L. (I think it stands for "circular polarizer")
8. Promaster 52mm diffuser (used to achieve a soft-focus effect in commercial photography and portraits)
9. Promaster 52mm cross-screen 4x (used to achieve a 4-cross flare on bright light sources in photos, to achieve a softer focus)

...and two more, one cooling filter and one warming filter:

10. Promaster 52mm 81A (used to decrease color temperature [warm up colors], like on an overcast day with gray skies)
11. Promaster 52mm 80A (used to increase color temperature [cool down colors])

I read on this site that these cooling and warming filters (that change the white balance) are not really necessary if you shoot RAW files on a digital camera, which I do, so maybe I'll get rid of those two.

Too bad none of them are neutral density (or graduated neutral density) -- I might actually get some use out of one of those.

Otherwise, it seems that the circular polarizing filter is probably the most useful out of the whole list (if it fits any of my lenses). The site I linked to above has this to say about them: "They work by reducing the amount of reflected light that passes to your camera's sensor. Similar to polarizing sunglasses, polarizers will make skies appear deeper blue, will reduce glare and reflections off of water and other surfaces, and will reduce the contrast between land and sky."

The same site says that, "The effect [with the CP filter] is strongest when your camera is aimed in a direction which is perpendicular to the direction of the sun's incoming light." Very interesting. I'd like to give that a try. I'll have to see if 55mm is the right size for any of my lenses.

The red and orange ones (#s 2 and 3) also look intriguing --- I do like the look of black and white photography, so maybe it would be fun to give one of those a try. I'm not super-excited about them, though, because I feel like any effect they might grant to a photo can be done in post-processing afterward, and with less hassle (no filter to keep up with, attach, care for, &c.).

I might get rid of #s 1, 4, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Though it would be nice to figure out what the green and yellow ones (1 and 4) do before I sell them.

I'm hoping to have time to play with a couple of these in the next few weeks. Also will maybe try out the Speedlite, if it works. If I decide to keep either of the lenses, I'll post some details about that later, too.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

5D Mark II, 85 f/1.2L

So, I went to a camera store today to handle the 5D Mark II.

I'm in love.

Even just shooting around the store, I could tell a difference in the feel of the images. Also, the viewfinder is heavenly compared to my XT's, not to mention the LCD screen (how nice to be able to actually see the image you just took).

The guy asked me what lenses I usually shot with, and I told him primes. So what does he bring me? The 85 f/1.2L.

Well! First I took a few shots with my own 85 1.8. Here's one at f/1.8 (no editing except for a crop):

THEN --- the fateful moment --- I put on the 85L. Here's a shot at f/1.2, again, no editing, not even a crop this time:

As Stacy London would say, Shut the front door. That bokeh! So creamy! Such "pop" to the image!

The 5Dii has the top display for ISO, aperture, &c, so it took a moment to get used to how that worked. But my XT actually has a kind of similar display right above the LCD (which is one reason the LCD is so small), so it was really just a change in position and complexity.

The cam is obviously heavier, but with my 85 1.8 attached (my heaviest lens so far), it was not unmanageable. I wish I could have tried it out somewhere other than a fluorescent-lit camera store :)

I also tried a couple of shots with the store's copy of the 24-70L, and I paid attention to the feel of the focal length at 24mm, which is what I think my next lens purchase will be (eventually). It didn't seem too wide on the FF (my main concern), but again, I was shooting in a camera store! I am tempted to rent a FF and the 24L before I make either of those purchases, but I just can't help thinking that that could be money put toward the final purchase that would be a waste on a rental.

I also tried the video briefly, but I'm not sure I uploaded that file correctly to my Mac. Will deal with that later. Not particularly enthralled with video at the mo.

I am still wrestling with the decision about the 5D Mk II. I can afford it (in a few months), but is that how I should spend $2400? Canon is supposed to be making some more announcements on Tuesday, so if they by chance announce a 60D or equivalent that has good high ISO capabilities, reality may win out over emotions. A $1200 body upgrade is much more reasonable for a hobbyist like myself. I just wish they'd make a FF cam with no bells and whistles for under $2000. I get that it's the sensor that makes it expensive in the first place, but I am willing to sacrifice frames per second, fancy LCD screens, &c for an affordable FF body. I'm sure I'm dreaming.

The bottom line is that I want to upgrade to a body that will perform well in low light, and that I can take to ISOs above 1600 without seeing much noise. Am hoping to have a body upgrade by this fall. Until then, I plan to have fun learning lots about my two primes and getting better at post-processing.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Newfound Lightroom skills

So, I'm posting one of the photos from my last post after some additional post-processing. I got some really good tips from the people in the Retouching forum on I am really excited to be learning more about the program. I know it can give me great abilities -- I just haven't taken the time to really try things out. This photo gave me a good reason to.

So, here's my new edited version. One other thing I'd really like to do to finish it off would be to run it through some dedicated noise reduction software, but I don't have any of those programs (Noise Ninja, etc.). Ah, well.

I actually used the Mask tool to brighten the man's face and darken the plate on the wall right behind his head. I used Lightroom's noise reduction, but the beta only lets you do color and edge detail NR, not luminescence NR. I made the colors a cooler blue-ish tint. I could have lightened the photo more, but I like the shadows on the right side contrasting against the bright neon lights on the left.

If I have time this weekend, I would love to take some old photos and run them back through Lightroom to see if I can do better.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Night shots

I experimented a little with night shots last week. I had no idea what settings to use, so it was pretty much all trial and error. Here's one that I think turned out okay.

It was taken with my 85mm at ISO 800, f/2.8, and 1/200 sec.

I think the colors of the neon lights are interesting, and I'm hoping the man's face is light enough to be noticed. I think it is.

Here's another with the 85mm, at ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/50 sec:

I like the colors in this one, too. The lamp post in the foreground looks neat to me with the yellow and red casing.

And here's the uncropped, unstraightened version of it, which I include because I like the dark figure on the far right of the frame, and I missed him when I had to straighten/crop:

I wish I knew of a way to sort of copy-paste him back into the straightened version. I might ask on the retouching forum if anyone has any ideas. I think he adds a lot to the photo.

But anyway, I was actually quite pleased with these two since I hadn't really tried to shoot outdoors in these kind of lighting conditions yet. It was pretty hard for me to get anything that wasn't blurry, and these two are two of the three best. I scrapped almost everything else. Nothing I took of people walking by came out -- too blurry. I know the shutter speed was to blame for that, but I already had the aperture as wide open as I thought reasonable, and I wasn't willing to boost ISO to 1600, but maybe I should have been.

But I think they're not bad at all for ISO 800 on the 350D. When I zoomed in while editing in Lightroom, I definitely saw noise, but when looking at the photos "normal" size, it doesn't bother me -- I don't even notice it.

I think night images like these two are all fine and good with my current set-up, but if I ever want to get keepers of people in these conditions who aren't standing still as statues, I think I'm going to have to invest the time/$ in learning flash. I keep avoiding it because I don't think I'll be willing to carry around flash equipment all the time. I like photography a lot, and I like taking the kinds of images I take, but I can't see myself ever becoming the kind of photographer who carries around tripods and bounce cards and three bags' worth of equipment. I like being mobile and last-minute and flexible.

I like being the kind of photographer who happens to have her camera with her when she sees something interesting. And even when I'm with friends, I want to be able to pull out my camera and take a few shots without holding everyone up or exasperating them while I set up a tripod and connect a flash. Maybe that means I'll always be an amateur, but that's definitely okay with me.

I'm also afraid that my enjoyment of images like these has sealed the deal for me -- my next camera body needs to be awesome at high ISOs. I think I would get a ton of use out of that ability.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Canon AE-1 Program

My mom has been shooting digital for a while now, but I was reminded the other day of her old camera, a Canon AE-1 Program, bought in 1984 for $219. I can't remember if hers is black & silver, or all black, but at any rate, it looks like this:

I called her up and asked her if she'd bring it to me next month when they visit. She said she would, and I am so excited.

I'm interested in experimenting with it a bit because I've been thinking a lot about full-frame DSLRs lately, in all of my obsession about upgrading from my 350D. I have no idea what it feels like to shoot with one -- people talk about the DOF being better, etc., but I have a feeling that there's just a different kind of atmosphere about it that people like. And I remember my mom's pictures with the AE-1 Program looking so gorgeous, and not for any particular reason.

This isn't the best example, but it's one of the only ones I actually have on my computer --

About three years ago, I scanned in a bunch of our old photos from when we were kids -- I'm on the right, here, and that's my mom and brother.

What I would love to do with this cam is put in some black and white film and just take a roll of portraits. I just have this feeling that it's the perfect film camera for portraits. I also think it wouldn't be too bad at some landscapes. Ken Rockwell says to use it in "Program" mode (a.k.a. "professional," a.k.a. "auto"), which I believe is how my mom used it. It will be tempting to mess around a bit, though, and see what I can see, but now my photos will cost something, as opposed to the free digital images I've been so used to.

I won't have it in my hands until the end of March, but I'm doing some research now in preparation.

(And no, I haven't forgotten about my new 85mm. We're traveling this weekend, and I hope to find a few chances to use it the way I want to use it.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

85 1.8 arrived, testing

Right before our "historic" snowfall started -- the second one of the season already -- my 85 1.8 arrived. I've never really tested a lens before, and I don't usually read many in-depth tests of lenses myself, but I wanted to try this one out. So, I tested it for sharpness and focus last night at a few apertures between 1.8 and 5.0. All of the shots were at ISO 400. I tried to focus directly on the second (middle) "A" on "SARASA." All shots were hand-held, and these are small crops of larger scenes.

f/1.8, 1/125 sec:

f/2.0, 1/125 sec:

f/2.5, 1/80 sec:

f/3.5, 1/40 sec:

f/4.0, 1/30 sec:

As you can see, the image starts to get pretty fuzzy around f/4.0, but we're also looking at a significantly decreased shutter speed. I would like to do this same test outside, in sunshine, at ISO 100. Wonder what those results would look like. Thanks to The Great Blizzard of 2010 (not trademarked :)), it will be several days before I'm able to try a test like that.

At any rate, I'm extremely pleased with the sharpness at 1.8. The focus seems to be spot-on. I don't have a lot of experience evaluating lenses, and when I read about the problems people describe with new equipment on photography sites like, I get worried that I should test X, Y, and Z before being satisfied with the lens. But I consider "field use" the real test -- does it take the photos I want to take and perform as expected? Again, thanks to the arrival of The Great Blizzard, it will be a few days before I know the answers.

Meanwhile, on with testing ;)

Here's one of the first shots I took after getting the lens on my 350D. It was taken at ISO 400, f/1.8, 1/250 sec:

And here's a small crop:

Now, the first thing I notice in this crop (other than the noise in the image thanks to the ISO) is a bit of what I believe is called chromatic aberration (CA) -- the purple coloring on the top of the piece, and anywhere the light is shining directly on it. The conditions for this shot were a little funky, as you can see from the full image above -- the container is sitting directly under a lamp, which is basically providing the only light for the scene. I don't know if that is contributing to the amount of CA I'm seeing here, or if this is a "flaw" of the lens at f/1.8 (and maybe the higher ISO has something to do with it?).

Anyway, the good news seems to be that it's pretty sharp (at least to my eyes). I believe I focused on the horizontal cross-piece, where the two "wings" curve around to. Considering the cropping I've done here, and the limited capabilities of my 350D's 8 megapixels, the image seems to be evidence of a sharp lens -- even at f/1.8.

I'm pretty pleased with my amateur tests, but I'm more excited to get outside and use it -- as soon as this snow stops!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Snow's getting old

More snow, and I'm tired of it already. But it did give me a chance to try some more shots of snow, and this time I experimented a little bit with the skies.

So here's a few I took this morning before I went to work, just around our neighborhood:

It was taken at ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec. Now, here's the original:

As you can see, I lightened the trees quite a bit, but unfortunately, I think that brightened the skies too much. I know there's a way to brighten one part of a photo and keep the rest the same, but I think it has something to do with layers, or masks, and I don't know how to do that in processing yet.

I wonder if I'd bumped the ISO if that would have helped with the trees. Hmm. Probably would've hurt the tones in the sky, though. Something to try for another day.

So here's a few more.

Now this one was interesting. It was taken at ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/320 sec. I took it because the sun was shining directly onto this tree, and it looked so awesome. But that doesn't show in the photo at all! In fact -- it looks kind of flat. The colors are all too close to the same hue. But I still think it's interesting, just in a different way.

Here's another with a somewhat interesting sky:

I amped the colors in the sky in this photo a lot. It was taken at ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/400 sec. I have a hard time stopping myself when I'm editing sometimes -- how far is too far? When does it start to look unnatural? It's hard to be objective when you're in the throws of editing.

I think they all have a slightly blue-ish tint to them, but I kind of like it. I almost wish that someone else (someone more pro) would edit my photos with me at the same time, but totally separately. Then we could come together and see how our versions differ. I don't know how else to learn post-processing techniques other than trial and error. It can be a little frustrating at times, but I'll probably internalize it better this way.